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The Paths We Take #30: Shotgun

Sep 18, 2018







The slow blinking of the “OPEN” sign teased my eyes as I sat in the parking lot of The Dollhouse. ON — She stood at the door teasing a smooth-faced frat boy as her fingers grazed her lips. OFF — A lone leather-coat clad man smoking a cigarette sank into the collar of his coat to escape the chill. ON – She danced in the silence, her hips swaying as she brought her hands above her head, a gorgeous, curvy silhouette in front of fluorescent light. OFF — A faint trail of smoke from a discarded cigarette.

I’d thought about Katie more since Claire was taken. I guessed it was some kind of stress-induced nostalgia that kept her coming back to me. I thought about how empty my life would be, how I would lumber on in a continued heavy chaos until I got them back, both of them — the one who left . . . and the one who was taken. If I was lucky, maybe I could bring peace to the ones the girl in the photograph left behind. They were dangerous thoughts.

When I walked inside, Lilly was sitting on a white suede couch with a clean-shaven, balding man with razor thin eyebrows, his crisp white button down tucked into black slacks. She looked up at me and then back to the man who was laughing while he whispered something in her ear. Her red lace baby-doll lingerie rested against her curves as she smiled at the man and blew him a kiss.

While I was watching her, A younger girl dressed in a white tank top and black mini-skirt slid up beside me.

“You want a drink, hun? Two-dollar Heinekens and five-dollar shots of Jack until ten.”

“Not drinking tonight. Saving all my money for the girls.”

She half-rolled her eyes as she brushed passed me and then grinned at an older man who was fumbling with three single dollar-bills as he panted over a dancer on the lower stage.

“Making friends?” Lilly asked as she put a hand on my shoulder from behind. She kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “What are you doing here?”

She was watching Joe Snyder who stood behind the corner bar. He lifted a finger to acknowledge me when our eyes met, but then continued his conversation with the bartender.

“I need to talk to you,” I said.

“Better let me take you to the back for a private dance then. Make it believable.”

Lilly grabbed me by the hand and led me to a set of double doors that were roped off. A square-jawed man with a ponytail allowed us through after Lilly whispered into his ear; it was clear that men did what she wanted. There were several rooms on each side of the hallway; we made our way to the back room on the left. Lilly pulled the curtain shut and then stood in front of me.

“I probably don’t have to tell you that you’re being watched,” she said. “Do I?”

“No . . . But I need you to tell me more about the moonlighting some of the girls do. The kind of thing you’re not supposed to talk about.”

Lilly’s face tightened as she looked down at me. I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or angry.

“You know that you aren’t getting any of that from me, right?”

“I know . . . I’m not here for that. It’s about Claire. Something happened to her. She’s gone . . . You ever hear about any girls disappearing?”

Lilly sat down on my lap and leaned in and put her soft lips on my ear as she glanced towards the curtain.

“Girls disappear sometimes . . . especially around here. It’s not what you think though. A lot of these girls want to disappear.”

A pair of brown cap-toe dress shoes appeared outside of the curtain. The security at the Dollhouse wore suits, men with a certain polished roughness who were present to make sure the customers, and the girls, behaved.

“I don’t think Claire wanted to disappear. I know at least one detective is involved.”

“Two guys come in here on Friday nights, I think one’s a cop, an older guy. The other guy looks like a banker or an accountant — he’s always in a suit and tie and leaves after the cop.”

The brown shoes walked passed a second time. I could feel Lilly’s leg shaking against mine. She stared at the curtain with widened eyes like a deer watching a predator.

“I know Joe is involved in some shady stuff, but I don’t think this has anything to do with Claire—”

“Joe sends some of the girls to this guy, apparently an extremely wealthy guy, who arranges private meetings with special clients, off-site.These arrangements sometimes become permanent. It is like a sugar-daddy arrangement, but very hush-hush. They take care of the girls, very well, in exchange for their companionship. Most of the girls don’t want to come back.”

Lilly turned her head to check the curtain again, but we were alone. She leaned forward and kissed my ear again.

“Joe approached me about working with the guy, but I didn’t want any part of it. One of the girls told me that some of the clients want to fulfill some of their wildest fantasies with the girls. She said that sometimes the clients can be violent.”

“What does this have to do with Claire?”

“Some guys want what they can’t get . . . Claire is a girl they can’t get.”

The thud of the bass was shattered by shouts and heavy footfalls. Lilly’s eyes froze on mine as we listened, her back tensed as she sat up and dug her fingernails into my shoulders. I could hear Joe’s voice and then rough voices shouting in response; the blur of voices sounded like frenzied growls echoing in the distance.

“Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” The words were followed by a loud blast, followed by a schklikt schklikt sound. My ears filled from the noise and I could hear faint screams over the ringing. Lilly was on the floor with her hands pulling her head into her chest, like a child hiding under the covers during a thunderstorm.

“How do we get out?” I asked as I pulled Lilly to her feet. She pointed to the curtain that covered the wall, or what I thought was the wall, at the back corner of the room.

As we pulled the curtain back, I saw a narrow hallway filled with extra lighting equipment and a few spare bar stools. I looked back to see several pairs of black boots just outside the closed curtain, and then a shotgun blast shredded the curtain and couch as I dragged Lilly into the hallway. More blasts sent hot metal slicing through the back curtains and pounding into the outer wall.

Lilly pointed to a metal door that was about thirty feet away. We bolted towards the door, voices enclosing behind us. I snatched the handle and ripped the door open, pushed Lilly out, and then hurled myself through, slamming the door shut behind me. Snow-covered dirt and leaves met us when we landed, and without taking a breath, we sprinted into the wood line, which was dense and dark, except for the few slivers of moonlight that founds its way through the maze of branches and leaves. Pine needles and knifelike branches lashed out at us as we shot through the trees and down the embankment towards the highway. We wove our way around truck-size boulders, trees trunks, and downed branches.

We could hear the shouts and watched the shattered beams of flashlights as we stepped out onto the road. Headlights poured over us as they came to a screeching halt. The light blinded us like we stepped out of the forest and into the sun. I heard a door open and a familiar, hurried voice called out, “We’ve gotta go.”


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.